It’s a rare feat to trailblaze a path in the sciences simply by graduating from college, but that’s just what Lauren Babb ’14 did on May 16, 2018, when she became the first woman of color to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemical physics from Barnard College at Columbia University.
“While it was not my motivation, it is not lost on me at my own college that I am the first black chemical physics major,” she said. “While I am proud to have blazed this trail, it honestly shocked me that in 2018 I would be putting pen to paper and sealing my name on this little piece of history.”
Babb, who comes from an Indo-Caribbean family, is proud of her heritage and believes it’s unfortunate that society hasn’t reached a level of equality and diversity throughout all fields, including the sciences.
“Educators need to rally to make knowledge accessible, so that everyone gets a fair shot. Diversity only serves to better our communities, our future, and we need to encourage it,” Babb said. “Every little girl or boy growing up can believe his or her dreams are possible. We need to give all future children hope and show them that we have reached a time where history will reflect equality — not just in my own anecdote, but in the statistics.”
As proud as she is of her ethnic heritage, she also maintains immense pride in her family’s influence on her love of science, which she has had since she was a child.
Her father, an ophthalmologist, studied molecular biology in college, while her mother studied psychology. Her grandfather was also a mathematician who worked for British Airways in the 1950s.
“It was clear to most from a very early age I would be doing in science,” Babb said. “As a child, I lugged around an encyclopedia of the human body. I couldn’t even read half the words in it to be honest, but I naturally gravitated toward those images and ideas even as a little kid.”
What began as childhood curiosity has now led Babb to be accepted into the physics doctorate program at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, where she will begin her studies in Belgium in the fall. The program is taught in French – though Babb is fortunately fluent in the language.
In addition to her studies, she is also about to become a published author, as she has contributed to a piece submitted to the American Chemical Society about organometallic chemistry and the prospects of creating cost-effective and efficient biofuels.
These studies accentuate her youthful curiosity to know why things are, as well as what things are.
“I was interested in more than just a simple answer —it was the proof, the deeper explanation I sought. Now, later in my life, I crave to understand things from their fundamentals, and that is why I continued to study science into adulthood,” she said.
This natural curiosity was something that she believes was fostered at Oak Knoll, in addition to providing a grounding on which she could build a stable educational foundation and support her spiritual growth.
“Oak Knoll gave me so much more than just a top-tier education,” she said. “Oak Knoll grounded me spiritually, and I am eternally grateful to have attended an institution that connected me to my faith at such an important and transformative time in my life
“I needed that stability for the next phase of life because, as we all know, college is not a place that breeds stability. Oak Knoll showed me who I was, and what I was capable of. Without those tools, I would not have made it through the uphill battle that college has been.”
Unsurprisingly, when looking ahead of herself, Babb doesn’t see one path, but many that include the common theme of paying it forward and giving back.
“I see myself becoming a mother, a scientist, an inventor, a professor, a teacher, a doctor or, perhaps, a combination of a few of those things all rolled into one five-foot-two body,” she said.
“Ultimately, I just want to do something that excites me and gives me joy,” she added. “Whatever I do, it is my desire to give just as much as I get – even more if I can by making sure that the women who are eager follow a path into science, engineering or technology have the resources and the encouragement they need to go the distance.”